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Beggar Santos Isolates Himself, at Home and Abroad

By: Javier Garay - @Crittiko - Nov 13, 2014, 9:44 am
El Gobierno de Juan Manuel Santos no ha demostrado por qué contribuyentes de otros países deben financiar el "posconflicto". (Flickr)
Juan Manuel Santos has not effectively articulated why foreign contributors should finance Colombia’s post-conflict reconstruction. (Flickr)

EspañolColombian President Juan Manuel Santos has officially wrapped up his week-long fundraising tour of Europe. Although consistently vague about the purpose of his trip, his primary goal was to rally financial support for Colombia’s post-conflict reconstruction projects, which remain pending until a peace agreement is signed with the FARC in Havana, Cuba.

However, Santos’s tour of Europe has garnered little financial support, which begs the question: who, if anyone, could and should donate to his cause?

Given the historical alliance between the United States and Colombia — punctuated by the recent US commitment to fight drug trafficking via Plan Colombia — some contend that the United States should be Colombia’s principal donor.

This eye towards the United States stems from essentially two assumptions. First, proponents see some sort of justification, even a moral obligation, for a foreign country to allocate tax money to Colombia’s peace process. Second, they assume the US federal government should take on a larger financial role, simply because it presides over one of the richest countries in the world.

There are no official figures for the expected cost of post-conflict reconstruction in Colombia, partly because peace not only depends on agreements with the FARC but also the National Liberation Army (ELN) and other criminal organizations (Bacrim). However, Bank of America has calculated that the effort will cost roughly US$88 billion over the course of a decade following the signing of peace agreements.

Such a large financial need amid a long-term recession in developed countries suggests that other governments should not be counted on as Santos’s primary source of funds. Rather, financial support for post-conflict reconstruction will have to come from Colombians themselves, as it should anyway.

Beyond Santos’s rhetoric of euphemisms and speculative analysis, this debate merits deeper consideration. Although Colombian officials continue to gloss over their true intention, we can see that they want to use foreign policy as a fundraising tool. In other words, those in power are regressing to their policy of international charity, which I have criticized in the past.

With this strategy, foreign policy ceases to be the avenue through which Colombia can interact with other countries on the international stage. Instead, it becomes a tool to amplify domestic concerns and project them in a politically correct manner  as problems for developed countries.

Let us hear the justification for why Colombian officials, and various commentators, insist that others take responsibility for what happens in Colombia. The notion that a potential peace agreement with the FARC would be a global public service is misguided, but if Colombian officials can prove that placating the FARC is indeed an international endowment, then they should do so openly through serious and rigorous debate.

What remains to be discussed, though, is why the projected cost of reconstruction is so high, and what specific projects will be paid for with the reconstruction fund. Yes, Colombian citizens will have to make concessions en route to the peaceful society that they desire, and a large portion of the financial burden will fall on their shoulders. That being said, the assumption that government officials and the FARC should dictate the framework of reconstruction projects is wrong, since it is the citizens who will pay.

Greater transparency into what the post-conflict fund will finance is necessary, including an investigation into all aspects of the program. The consequent discussion must go beyond academic circles — and before the signing, not only after — for it to achieve goodwill with the public.

Above all, it is paramount that this initiative sees the advent of a free society in Colombia. A free society is the best way to ensure progress and a decline in violence. That does not require more money, but a change in ideas.

Translated by Peter Sacco. Edited by Fergus Hodgson.

Javier Garay Javier Garay

Javier Garay is a professor at the Externado University of Colombia. He has written two books on international issues, such as development, after his doctoral dissertation focused on the same topic. Follow him on Twitter @crittiko and through his personal blog, Crittiko.